Tokyo Story (1953) 東京物語

Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Running Time: 136 minutes
Starring: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura

Theme: Family/Aging

Ratings: 8.3/10

Film Festivals: N/A

1953 British Film Institute Awards Sutherland Trophy
1954 Mainichi Film Concours for Best Supporting Actress (Haruko Sugimura)

Nominations: N/A

Tokyo Story is based around a very simple tale. An old couple comes to the city to visit their children and grandchildren, only to realize that their children are too busy to attend to them, and that their visit only served to upset their routines. The parents return home. A few days later, the grandmother dies and the scenario is reversed, as it is the children’s turn to make the journey home.

Billed as one of the greatest films of all time, Ozu’s Tokyo Story is a film that allows us, as viewers to “share its understanding … [rather than] force our emotions” (Ebert 2003). Unlike typical films that tend to exploit dramatic moments or situations to trigger our senses, Tokyo Story does away with all these. In fact, the beauty of the film lies in focus on the subtlety in everyday life that we tend to take for granted. A good example is Ozu’s use of brief evocative images from the characters’ daily lives such as trains, clouds, hanging clothes, street lamps and banners blowing in the wind. Watching the film is like looking out of the window, everything happens as it would in reality without overhyped drama or emotions.

Another thing to note about Tokyo Story is its visual style and strategy. Movement for example, comes not from the camera i.e panning and tracking but from the objects within the scenes themselves i.e. people and nature. Often, an empty room is shown before people start entering and filling up the visual space in front of the camera and it lingers for a while even after they leave. Furthermore, scenes are viewed almost always from the floor, lower than the eye level of a seated character, as part of Ozu’s theory that “no actor was to dominate a scene” (Malcolm, 2000). This is also known as Ozu’s trademark ‘Tatami-level shots’. There are no obvious cutaways or overlapping dialogue. If there are conversations, they are always shown in whole; otherwise the scene might be a totally silent one. Such simplicity reflects Ozu’s appreciation of the subtle shades of his characters and humanity – that what isn’t said can be more important that what it is and less is better.

Overall, Tokyo Story can be summed up in one word: “reality”. A delicately crafted story packaged in a deliberately leisurely manner, it draws the viewer into the sweeping, beautiful images with Ozu’s enchanting sets and cinematography key as the story transpires. The conclusion is muted yet heartbreaking in all its understated poignancy.


Ebert, R. (2003, November 9). Sun Times: Tokyo Story (1953). Retrieved on October 11, 2010, from

Malcolm, D. (2000, May 4). The Guardian: Yasujiro Ozu – Tokyo Story. Retrieved on October 11, 2010, from



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